Why I never use a round yard to train horses

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Neil Davies works in a square pen with a young horse at a clinic.
Neil Davies works in a square pen with a young horse at a clinic.

Lots of trainers use a forty-foot round yard for all their horse training. The main idea seems to be for the trainer to chase the horse around the fence until the horse is tired (and sometimes exhausted).

In a round yard, every horse’s natural reaction is to run around the fence when he’s chased. While it may appear that the horse is being taught to move in a circle, the plain fact is that he’s just running around the fence.

I always work in a square yard when I handle foals or start horses under saddle. I never, ever use a round yard. I make sure the square yard is no bigger than 20 feet by 20 feet. I believe round yards of any size are unsuitable for handling horses and here’s why.

  • In all training situations, the first and most important thing is to go to every horse and show him that you’re not going to hurt him. A frightened horse must never be chased because chasing him will frighten him even more.
  • When a previously unhandled horse is roped in a round yard, he’ll be frightened by the rope and he’ll run faster and faster. When this happens, there’s no way of stopping the horse other than jerking on the rope or running him to the point of exhaustion. But in a square yard, a frightened horse will stop in a corner. You can then go to the horse and show him that you’re not going to hurt him. Or, if he hasn’t been caught, a rope can be placed on the horse and used to show him what you want.
  • In a round yard, every horse learns to run round and round the fence. When the horse is ridden outside for the first time, you’ll find that he hasn’t learned much. When there’s no round yard fence to rely on, the horse will move anywhere, anyhow because he hasn’t been taught to move exactly where the rider wants.
  • In a square yard, every horse has to be taught to move exactly where you want. There’s no fence to rely on. When a young horse is first ridden out of the square yard, he’s already been taught to move in an exact circle. The horse will be under control and he’ll move where and how the rider asks.
In a square yard, a horse can be stopped in a corner when things go wrong.
In a square yard, a horse can be stopped in a corner when things go wrong.

Another thing to remember is that nobody’s perfect and we all make mistakes. When things go wrong in a round yard, the horse will run and run and there’s no way to stop him. But in a square yard, a horse can be stopped in a corner when things go wrong.

In a round yard, there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to approach a horse that’s hard to catch. Such a horse has an advantage in a round yard. He can keep running around the fence and there’s nothing you can do about it. In a square yard, any horse can be stopped in a corner and then you can approach him.

In every training situation, the biggest advantage of a small square yard is that you can approach every horse and show him that you’re not going to hurt him. You can’t chase a horse relentlessly in a square yard, because he’ll stop in a corner. Therefore, you won’t be tempted to use fatigue as one of your training tools.

 

neil-daviesNeil Davies began training horses full-time in 1977. Over the next 15 years, he started more than a thousand horses under saddle and trained thousands of so-called ‘problem’ horses. [read more]

He is the author of Fear-free Horse Training – every step of the way.

Visit Neil’s website at www.fearfreehorsetraining.com.

Neil Davies

Neil Davies began training horses full-time in 1977. Over the next fifteen years, he started more than a thousand horses under saddle and trained thousands of so-called ‘problem’ horses. From $100 backyard ponies to thoroughbreds worth millions, Neil has seen it all. » Read Neil's profile

6 thoughts on “Why I never use a round yard to train horses

  • September 2, 2015 at 12:29 am
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    I guess some people chase their horses until exhaustion. Those are the same people who think that using a bit is for “control”.

    Reply
    • September 3, 2015 at 10:01 am
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      Kat, totally agree.

      Reply
  • September 11, 2015 at 10:06 pm
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    THE IDEA OF THE ROUND PEN IS NOT TO EXHAUST THE HORSE, IT IS TO GET THEM COMFORTABLE MOVING AT ALL GAITES AND GETTING A WHOA, TO OBSERVE THEIR MOVEMENT AND ADJUST IT BY ADJUSTING YOUR MOVEMENT…GETTING THEM USED TO MOVING WITH SADDLE…ETC

    Reply
  • August 12, 2016 at 4:08 pm
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    An accomplished horseman can use a round penning or a square pen or a lunge line to propwrly start a horse with the same.poaitu ve results just as an incompetent horseman can ruin them with the same tools. It’s not the tools it’s the talent that makes a fear free.horse. Staying with one method only is a crutch for the trainer.

    Reply
  • November 21, 2020 at 11:33 pm
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    Round or square the approach and retreat method is used NOT the exhaustion method, it’s called join up can be done anywhere and it’s on top of the feet, keeping your space and letting the horse have theirs it horse language. Reading signs signals, ie monty Roberts, Warwick shuller, buck brannaman, Rick gore to name but a few.

    Reply

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